I have students.
29 of them to be exact.
When people talk about raising class sizes as if just a couple of kids won’t make much more of a difference I wonder if they have ever actually experienced what is like to mark and analyse the results of 29 students. Don’t get me wrong I’m the sort of geek who loves playing around in e-asstle generating reports and find spending an evening entering the data oddly soothing after a busy day in the classroom.
However when it came to assessing my students’ writing samples I’ve spent hours reading and re-reading their work trying to get a fix on where the kids are at and trying to group them into ability groups.
Because I do so much writing I thought that would make the process easier. In fact I found it so much harder. I write mostly for pleasure and when faced with having to write something within a certain space of time ie. an exam or a work deadline any enjoyment I derive from writing goes straight out the window. And I know that for some students when they are faced with having a directive from me, their teacher, asking them to write there will be a few that will struggle to say anything let alone anything profound in the time allowed to. It worries me that there may very well be a couple of kids who are brilliant writers but I’m missing them because of the pressure to produce something in the time allowed.
However what ultimately helped the most with making a call on the students writing wasn’t the rubrics but spending time on a field trip with the students. That might sound counter-intuitive but spending time with the kids enabled me to see that little snippets of themselves that came through in their writing. The turns of phrases, how they talk. Some of those details I completely missed when I first read their work. Had I not had those interactions I might of missed those details of their writing and saw the students’ work only as writing levels rather than the product of emerging writers.
The further people get away from the classroom, the easier it is to reduce not only teaching and learning but the lives of children down to nothing more than a number on score. The kids are so much more than that. Yet how often do we hear people talk about raising academic achievement levels as if assessment is the master of our education system rather than the servant of teaching and learning.
Our understanding of what it is to be educated should not be based simply on what is present, but also on how the spaces between what is given are seen, named, unnamed, ignored. Because ultimately the kids are so much than the sum of their academic parts.
And when we see only the parts we miss the spaces in between.